Which produce do the great gourmands of Australia actually prefer and where does the best come from? As part of the judging process for these 100 Greatest Australian Gourmet Experiences, we asked for answers to just these questions on the following Ten Great Australian Produce Items – with some surprising results.
Special Comments by: Matt Moran, Alla Wolf-Tasker, Peter Russell-Clarke, Matthew Evans, Simon Johnson, Michael Ryan, Jacques Reymond and Maggie Beer.
Australia’s Ten Greatest Produce Items
8. Rock Lobster
10. Macadamia Nuts
The king of gourmet crustaceans in Australia, most fishmongers will have three different crabs for the lucky home cook. In order of prestige (aka price), they are: Mud Crab, usually from the Qld mangroves; Blue Swimmer Crab, from most places; and Spanner Crab, from Qld and NSW. However, the greatest of Australian Crabs, the Giant Crab, is rarely seen in any fish market. And what a sight – with a body width up to 46cm and chelae (claws, to us mortals) that could snap your hands off at the wrists, it’s lucky they’re deepwater crabs found 90m-200m below the surface, exclusively in the Bass Strait and off the west coast of Tassie. The Giant Crab is the heaviest crab in the world and second largest to Japan’s King Crab. Just do not try and buy one – the crop heads almost exclusively as live export to the Chinese mainland for mind-boggling prices.
Our panellists all have very different opinions on the where and how of crabs. The Spencer Gulf in SA is the spot for Maggie Beer, while Matt Moran says, “NT crab is amazing”, and Alla Wolf-Tasker simply names Noosa as her fave crab haven.
Sam Kekovich was on to something: our lamb is arguably the best in the world; Australians like to think the IQ-challenged animal carried the country forward; and our panellists uniformly love it. Maggie Beer is all in favour of the Pure Suffolk breed, nominating it her favourite; while Matthew Evans is a little more parochial with his pick – Flinders Island in his adopted state of Tasmania.
Matt Moran has interested parties to take care of. “Of course Moran Family Lamb is my favourite,” he says. “I love chops on the BBQ and a roasted leg of lamb with the family on a Sunday.”
Alla Wolf-Tasker is a fan of biodynamic lamb done in the Mediterranean tradition. “Powlett Hill biodynamic lamb feeds on wild grasses. I like lamb in summer when the strong, herbaceous flavours are perfect with the Mediterranean flavours of the vegetables in season: tomatoes, eggplant etc.”
And of course Peter-Russell-Clarke loves all kinds of lamb, “as long as it’s cooked with skill and attention”.
“In a world where much of this product now comes from variously polluted sinkholes in Asia, Australian products like Crystal Bay Prawns and others are real beacons of sustainable quality.” – Alla Wolf-Tasker
It’s the A-list food of Australia. No special occasion is truly special without prawns. However, our stocks are increasingly being pushed aside by inferior imported products. Alla Wolf-Tasker is passionately unabashed about the homegrown sources and inferiority of much of what we get offered. “In a world where much of this product now comes from variously polluted sinkholes in Asia, Australian products like Crystal Bay Prawns and others are real beacons of sustainable quality.”
Jacques Reymond agrees and cites sashimi grade Crystal Bay Prawns as his pick. Maggie Beer is a fan of her native Spencer Gulf prawns, while Sydney-based Matt Moran and Simon Johnson both point to the King Prawns from Yamba as their favourite.
The always-memorable Peter Russell-Clarke, when asked where his favourite prawns hail from, replied: “The sea. Or my cooking pot.” But how about a secret recipe from our first famous TV chef? “Hot oil, made even hotter with a handful of salt, drop the shell-encrusted green prawns in then take them out almost immediately. The shell will have crisped to edible while the inside stays warm, moist and raw.”
“Beef is one of my great passions.” – Matt Moran
Wagyu may be the breed on everyone’s tongue, but it’s not always the pick of the panellists. Maggie chose the Coorang Angus as her favourite and Alla Wolf-Tasker had to nominate three: Cape Grim grass-fed beef from the cleanest place on earth, the northwestern tip of Tasmania; moving north, Alla then chose the great Hopkins River beef from Dunkeld; and finally the Sher wagyu from Nick and Vicki in Ballan.
Simon Johnson is loving the wagyu skirt at the moment and Matt Moran speaks for most Aussie blokes (but with a pinch more authority and meaning) when he says, “Beef is one of my great passions.”
Babe clearly rates with our panel. Matthew Evans says, “Slow-grown truly free range pork has an unbelievable depth of flavour.” Matt Moran and Maggie are both fans of the Black Berkshire pig meat; Matt more so of the Kurobuta flesh from Qld, while Maggie rates Colin and Joy Leinert’s products in the Barossa. Alla cites Fernleigh Wessex Saddlebacks (the breed used at No.1 Experience on this list, The Agrarian Kitchen) as her favourite “other white meat”.
Barramundi’s reputation as fantastic eating was established very early in our history. The Sydney Bulletin in 1938 crowned barramundi as the “King of Australian Fish”.
Matthew Evans loves Barra, but has important stipulations: “Wild barramundi grilled over an open fire. Life doesn’t get any better.”
Alla and Maggie also both reckon wild is far superior, and Simon Johnson goes one better with a mini-recipe: “Pan fried with fennel and olives.”
The real challenge now is that since we are importing a great load of farmed barra from international destinations, much of the barra served in Australia today is the lesser-quality overseas kind.
Australian honey is the Beluga caviar of pollen syrups, the most famous being our leatherwood honey from Tasmania. Another great one is the Ligurian honey on Kangaroo Island. Alla Wolf-Tasker is an absolute fan: “Australia produces superlative honeys – the pungent leatherwoods of Tasmania, sure, but also many small suppliers who offer varietals based on where their hives are situated. JCB honey is one of those in Victoria.”
Matthew Evans sees honey much like wine. “Honey is an expression of place. One of the joys of travelling is tasting local varieties.”
8. Rock Lobster
The Australian lobster is world-class thanks to its surrounds. The best of the Australian lobsters live in the cool and clean waters of the Southern Ocean. This cooler and cleaner water lends itself to a slower yet healthier and larger-growing crustacean. And this in turn leads to a firmer and tastier flesh and, importantly in a glutinous world, a greater meat-to-shell ratio than other lesser lobsters.
Well, we have enough of them, why don’t we eat more of them? It seems the humble and maligned rabbit is a risky dining option. Alla Wolf-Tasker says rabbit “can be wonderful or dreadful”. Maggie is a little less cautious when she says, “Rabbit is wonderful, when cooked well.” We weren’t brave enough to ask how often that happens, though.
Matt Moran is a fan as he has just put a ballotine of rabbit on the menu, and Peter Russell-Clarke goes a little native on the humble lapin, saying: “Zero out of ten for the farmed variety. The only rabbit to cook and eat is a wild rabbit.”
10. Macadamia Nuts
The world goes nuts for our Macadamias. People pay a fortune for what many of us have growing in the backyard, literally. With the greatest amount of healthy monosaturated fats in the nutty kingdom, plus a swag of other beneficial nutritional qualities, we leave the last word to our other indispensible national nut, Peter Russell-Clarke – who seemed more than a little frustrated when we brought up the topic: “We should use more of them!”